Awesome Week at “Art Camp”

Last week, I attended the 2013 Kanuga Watermedia Workshops in Hendersonville, NC. It was my first time ever attending a fully immersive, multi-day art workshop. What a fun experience and artistic growth opportunity! “Art camp for grownups” is the best way of describing it. There is something really special and creatively energizing about being in the company of over 200 artists for a week.

Kanuga Conference Center is a conference retreat affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The site hosts many different groups over the course of a year, including the secular Watermedia Workshops. The grounds are beautiful and offer walking trails, a lovely lake, many trees, and attractive stone and wood buildings. I shared one of the historic cabins with three other women, and shared a room with my friend Kathy. Although rustic, it was clean, the twin bed was comfy, and the shower was hot and had superb water pressure. There are other options for those who may be more fussy about accommodations but I’m happy camping in my horse trailer as long as I can get a shower each day, so a cabin with a soft bed seems more than adequate to me.

Meals were served buffet-style in the Dining Hall at Kanuga Inn, a short walk from the cabin. The food was fantastic! There was always a diverse selection of well-prepared options (hint: get in line early). I opted for the box lunch instead of eating lunch in the dining hall. The box lunches are really good and since they are delivered to your workshop room just prior to the start of the lunch hour, offer more flexibility as to when and where you enjoy your lunch. Highly recommended. Otherwise, it starts to feel like all you do is run to the dining hall for meals, with a couple of hours of painting in between.

Registration took place on Sunday followed by a reception, dinner, and evening program. The workshops ran 9-4 Monday through Thursday and studios remained open for painting into the evenings as late as one might wish–or even all night. There were programs offered each evening, some of which I attended. Next year, I probably won’t attend so many and will use the time to paint and sketch instead. Extended weekend programs were offered for the weekend following the workshop. I might do an extended weekend program next year (these cost extra) which goes through Sunday if any appeal to me.

Sue Archer “Design In Watercolor” Workshop

Kanuga attendees must select one instructor to work with for the week. I chose to attend Sue Archer’s “Design In Watercolor” workshop. I love the quality of light and color play in her work and felt like Sue’s workshop would offer information that could help my own work evolve. That turned out to be true in spades.

Sue is not only a fabulous painter, she’s also a great teacher!  Through a series of short lectures, compelling demos, and guided practice, she made it easy to understand and apply the concepts and approach she taught. She had literally piles of prepared examples and tons of her finished works to illustrate the various teaching points. While students were working on exercises, she bounced around the room observing and offering helpful individual advice. Sue is a direct, no bullshit kind of person. She communicates in a crystal clear fashion, stays on task and expects her students to do the same. Yet there was always plenty of time to “catch up” on assigned practices or work on supplemental pieces to practice skills. If you know me, you know how much this approach appeals to me.

My work from Sue Archer’s workshop

In addition to the workshop instruction, Sue offered each participant a private 15-20 minute consultation to discuss anything about their work they wished. I learned so much from that private session. Sue identified a few key shortcomings in my sample paintings that will help me in future compositions. She also identified weak points and problem areas in a few reference photos I planned to use for paintings and offered sound advice about how to rearrange and crop for a stronger composition. Her honest, direct advice was invaluable.

If you are a serious watercolorist and ever have a chance to take Sue’s workshop, do it! She is a generous and excellent instructor. You will learn SO much. If traditional watercolor is not your thing, check out one of the other workshops–there is a lot on offer for watercolor, acrylic, gouache and mixed media artists. The 2014 workshops will probably be listed soon–the instructors planned for 2014 have already been selected and were listed in our program materials.

Photography Workshop with Mark Stadsklev

On Friday morning, I took a helpful half-day photography workshop from photographer Mark Stadsklev. It was mainly discussion, with many example photos shown, followed by some practice shooting outdoors. The focus was on using the camera’s manual controls to achieve creative effects in photos and to “think outside the box” and go for something more than the traditional scenic photos we see (and take) so often. I had avoided my camera’s manual controls before due to lack of understanding about how to set them to get “perfect” photos.

This short workshop opened my eyes to the creative possibilities of settings that might normally be considered “wrong”. Mark’s philosophy is that, sure, you’ll end up with a lot of so-called bad shots, but you just might end up with an award-winning gem by exploring your camera’s capabilities without worrying about what’s “right” and “wrong” in terms of settings. I can easily see him expanding his expertise and approach into a two-day workshop that begins with a review of the manual settings and their relationship, offers some structure practice in using them, and then encourages and guides students in playing with them to produce creative effects and perspectives in their images. Hope he does that…might be my extended weekend choice for next year if so.

Mark’s images are beautiful…take some time to visit his site. You can follow him on Twitter at @artwithinnature.

Following the week at Kanuga, I did a Doggitude book signing at ArtMoB Studios and Marketplace in Hendersonville, NC on Saturday. The event was organized by my friend and fellow canine artist Miriam Hughes and hosted by gallery owner Michele Sparks. It was a lot of fun signing books, meeting dogs, and talking to their people. ArtMoB is an adorable gallery with many different styles of fine art and craft represented, much with a whimsical flair.  Well worth a visit if you visit Hendersonville’s lovely historic downtown area.

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